Feminism Without Borders

December 15, 2014

Corinne Mason is at her office desk, relating a story about playing hockey in a faculty versus students match—a game in which she was the lone woman.

“I’m playing defence,” she says to a colleague in the Department of Sociology, “and getting roughed up in front of the net, trying to keep the crease clear. When all of the sudden the other player stops and says ‘sorry, I didn’t know you were a girl’.”

They both laugh at the irony. Dr. Mason joined BU in the fall of 2013 as Assistant Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies and Sociology. Originally from Ontario, this is her first full-time, tenure-track teaching job since earning her PhD at the University of Ottawa.

“My job in the classroom is to bring people closer to feminism,” she offers, “and in my research, I’m concerned with the circulation of talk, images, and text and the cultural work they do. I ask questions about how power and gender politics work at the transnational level, focusing specifically on representations of violence against women, reproductive justice, LGBTQ rights, and foreign aid.”

Mason recently completed a book chapter about news media reporting on sex-selective abortions in Canada, a topic which she feels communicates a great deal about how we, as a nation, engage with racialized and immigrant communities.

Given such serious research, visitors to Dr. Mason’s office are surprised to see Hollywood heart-throb Ryan Gosling peering from a cover on her bookshelf. “I pay a lot of attention to popular culture,” she explains, and the book Feminist Ryan Gosling pairs feminist theories with, according to the Amazon.com website, “swoon-worthy photos of the steamy actor”.

“People are learning within the spaces of popular culture and social media,” says Dr. Mason. “I try to bring complex theory to bear in these everyday spaces. In class, we talk about Beyoncé, Miley Cyrus, Taylor Swift and hip hop— serious areas of study, reflecting spaces of power and privilege in our lives.”

This past fall, Dr. Mason spearheaded a new initiative called Positive Space with the goal of making all people on campus feel respected and supported, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity and expression. Positive Space has proven successful at other universities across Canada in raising the visibility and awareness of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, two-spirit, queer and questioning, intersex, and asexual (LGBTTQQIA) issues and concerns, while also establishing safer and more welcoming spaces for students, staff, and faculty.

“We are taking the first steps in a long journey,” says Dr. Mason, “towards inclusivity and affirmation by asking ourselves questions about the current ‘climate’ for individuals of all genders and sexualities at Brandon University, and how we can do better.”

Rainbow Resource Center (Winnipeg) and The Sexuality Education Centre (Brandon) provided an introductory workshop attended by more than 40 faculty, staff, and administration to broaden their understandings of gender and sexuality. Participants learned how to identify and resist homophobia, lesbophobia, biphobia, transphobia, and heterosexism from a personal, social, cultural, and systemic framework. More Positive Space training is planned in the coming months at Brandon University.

“I hope Positive Space encourages new University policies,” says Dr. Mason, “including reformulating registration and counselling forms for students, creating more equitable and inclusive hiring practices, moving towards gender neutral and affirming language, and creating safer spaces across campus, including gender-neutral single-stall washrooms.”

Mason is currently working on Queering Development, a book-length project reflecting the current state of transnational feminism and queer theory. She is investigating the ways in which Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) rights are beginning to be included in international development policies and campaigns, including the United Nation’s “Free and Equal” campaign.

“I try to bring complex theory to bear in these everyday spaces. In class, we talk about Beyoncé, Miley Cyrus, Taylor Swift and hip hop-serious areas of study, reflecting spaces of power and privilege in our lives.”

In addition to her research and advocacy work, Dr. Mason remains dedicated to her students. “I have this dream,” she says, smiling at her vision for the future. “I see my students reciting feminist and queer theories on their farms. I see young feminists standing under a big open sky in a sprawling field, reading Jessica Valenti’s Full Frontal Feminism.”

Dr. Mason turns back to the work on her desk, a young academic with ideas and energy. “People outside of the discipline don’t often get it,” she says, unflagging. “They figure it’s folks who take pop culture way too seriously. But my job is to deconstruct the stereotypes of feminism and show students that this movement looks a lot different than what they may expect.”

This article first ran in the Winter 2014 issue of Alumni News, a bi-annual publication produced by the Department of Institutional Advancement.